Men's Soccer: Tigers kick off tough slate
Uncertainty looms as the men’s soccer team embarks on its 2012 season. Ready to return to the level of play it reached two years ago when head coach Jim Barlow ’91 coached the team all the way to the NCAA tournament’s first round, the Tigers scheduled a series of challenging opponents to open the season. Although Princeton lost its main offensive threat, Antoine Hoppenot ’12, senior forward Matt Sanner and sophomore forward Cameron Porter will likely lead the starting lineup in scoring.
Sanner put Princeton on the scoreboard early during the team’s first game against Seton Hall, ensuring a win for the Orange and Black.
“Facing Seton Hall of the Big East on the road after a very short preseason was not an easy task,” Barlow said. “They had been together a lot longer in August, they had about two or three regular season games under their belt already and were much further along than the Ivy teams.”
Setting its sights for victory beyond the Ivy League, the Tigers planned their first five games against Big East schools including No. 10 St. John’s, Rutgers, No. 12 Georgetown and Villanova. The Red Storm topped Princeton on Sept. 5 3-0 and handed senior goalkeeper Max Gallin his first loss of the season.
“They pressed us all over the field,” Barlow said about St. John’s. “This is one of best teams we have seen over the past four or five years and a top 20 team. But we were able to weather the storm and make it a back and forth game.”
Neighboring foe Rutgers also conquered Princeton in the home opener at Roberts Stadium as midfielder Mael Corboz took the lead for the Scarlet Knights in the first seven minutes of the game and sealed the win with another goal at 51:14.
But the early-season 1-2 record fails to reflect a plethora of Tiger talent and the group’s dedication to a comeback season. Among several of Princeton’s stellar moments, Sanner nearly put the Tigers on the board in the early going against Rutgers when he had a header hit the opponent’s crossbar, fed off of sophomore midfielder Joe Saitta’s free kick in the 14th minute. Sanner would attempt again with a kick from well outside the penalty arc, but goalie Kevin McMullen prevented the shot. Gallin posted an impressive defensive performance as he made two back-to-back stops in the last two minutes, capping Rutgers’ 2-0 lead.
Beyond the senior class and a list of other solid returning players, Barlow’s group of incoming freshmen has already proven to be a threat of its own. Freshman forward Nico Hurtado had one of the Tigers’ best chances to score in the latter half of the Rutgers game off a kick from the left side, but the Scarlet Knights’ keeper dove in front of the post just in time. Freshman forward Thomas Sanner assisted both goals during the win over Seton Hall, allowing his older brother Matt and sophomore midfielder Julian Griggs to find the net in the beginning and final minutes of the game, respectively.
“This year we have a good balance between veteran experience and young experience,” Barlow said. “We were really young last year and played six freshmen a ton last year. This year we are looking at some lineups with a few freshmen and some with none at all; it’s good to have that kind of flexibility when creating a game plan.”
The Tigers will continue their attempt to remain afloat in the Big East with its list of formidable players — they host Georgetown today — before beginning to wade into Ivy League play on Saturday when they will host Dartmouth.
“We threw ourselves right into the fire with a really difficult schedule this year,” Barlow said. “By the time we have our first Ivy game in two weeks against Dartmouth at home, we will have seen many good teams and will have faced a lot of challenges that will help us be prepared.”
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